DeVos recommends no IDEA waivers

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Monday told Congress she’s not recommending school districts receive any waivers of the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

DeVos was granted authority to consider waivers of some aspects of selected federal education laws in the CARES Act enacted in March. That law provides $13 billion to K-12 school districts nationwide. The CARES Act directed DeVos to submit a report on necessary waivers by April 27. 

In her report, DeVos did not recommend Congress pass any additional waiver authority concerning the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The announcement mirrors guidance provided by the Department in March.  

“The Secretary determined there is no reason that a student’s access to FAPE cannot continue online, through distance education or other alternative strategies,” the Department stated in a press release.  

The National School Boards Association, KASB and other educational advocacy organizations have over the past month repeatedly asked Congress to provide narrowly tailored and temporary flexibility to school districts as they continue to act in good faith to provide appropriate special education and related services to the extent feasible to students with disabilities during the COVID pandemic. (In Kansas, gifted students are also served under the IDEA).  

Challenges include interruption of the delivery of certain special education services such as HIPAA protections for students regarding services delivered online; public health directives preventing certain physical therapies; shortages of qualified staff caused by health and safety concerns; school building closures due to health and safety concerns where certain equipment and technology is housed and cannot be relocated; and, lack of Internet access and/or necessary hardware to connect service providers and instructional staff to students. 

Members are urged to contact any KASB attorney with questions about complying with the IDEA during online learning.  

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